"The Deep Blue Sea" Is Like Watching a Train Wreck in Slow Motion

By Matt Prigge
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 1 | Posted Apr. 11, 2012

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Rachel Weisz plays Hester in "The Deep Blue Sea"

Grade: A-

The opening credits bill it as “Terrence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea.” But that’s misleading. Though mounted to commemorate the British playwright’s centenary, director Terence Davies’ adaptation is nearly as faithless to the source as the source’s wife is to her husband. A more accurate credit would read “Terence Davies’ Terrence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea.”

Both film and play, which premiered in 1952, open with its antihero—the nudgingly named Hester (Rachel Weisz)—attempting suicide. But Davies, a stylist and a fetishist of postwar England (the time and place of his adolescence), has little patience for the theatrical, and arranges the first act as though on shuffle. Mostly through inference, we gradually learn that Hester is the wife of a plump lawyer, Sir William Collyer (Simon Russell Beale). Ditto that she has commenced relations with Freddie (Tom Hiddleston), a former RAF pilot who has rocked her button-up world with his brags about surviving WWII.

More than a decade separates The Deep Blue Sea from Davies’ previous narrative feature, The House of Mirth, and the initial 45 recalls one of the musty, plotless memory soaks with which Davies kicked off his career: the so-called “Terence Davies Trilogy,” Distant Voices, Still Lives and The Long Day Closes. Things eventually calm down and longer scenes emerge, but Davies maintains control over the material, keeping what he likes, rewriting what he thinks he can do better. He leaves alone two of the most polite and civil would-be arguments you’ve ever witnessed, but invents a quietly startling flashback where Hester, on the verge of another suicide attempt, finds solace in a memory set during the bombing of Britain.

Davies is famed for his use of ‘50s songs to summon up an era, a schtick here kept largely under wraps. Much of Sea takes place sans music, and since most of the dialogue is met with a pregnant pause, that means half the movie is comprised of silence. The absence of music has its own power: it adds to the film’s creeping slowness, which affords viewers plenty of time to let the gravity of Hester’s untenable position—she can’t tame Freddie, can’t return to William—sink in till it just about makes us sick. It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion.

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1. Anonymous said... on Apr 20, 2012 at 06:27PM

“I really like Rachel Weisz in general and love with period pieces of this type, but this movie was slow and painful. The opening and closing music was so melodramatic that it bordered on being comedic. The marriage between Weisz's character and her husband was inexplicable and unmotivated. One can only assume she married him for his money, but she's just not that type of person. Her relationship with her lover was painful too. Except for one scene of passion, it was hard to understand why she loved this guy so much, except for being sex deprived. She's a beautiful intelligent woman -- she could have found love in many other places. The whole thing just wasn't sufficiently motivated. The dialogue was so slow and painful, I was waiting for the movie to end -- and it was only 98 minutes. Though Weisz's performance was great (as was her husband's too actually), the material and the execution was just a big and painful disappointment.”

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